51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
This is now Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. It’s getting urgent, and he is not going to be deterred.
The Samaritans, predictably, don’t receive him well. He is Jewish, and Samaritans and Jews don’t get along at all. Not only is Jesus Jewish, he’s making it clear that he is going to Jerusalem–the heart and the symbol of Judaism.
But other people, who apparently are with Jesus–or want to be–aren’t getting the urgency of Jesus’ intentions. For him, everything depends on getting to Jerusalem. His very purpose for being born comes down to this journey and the events that will unfold in this city. He is going to Jerusalem to face the powers of this world, to expose them as false in the face of the reign of God, and to accept the consequences of doing such a thing. When you expose false powers for what they are–contrary to God–those who place their trust in those powers push back, and bad things can happen. Jesus is well aware of this; he understands that this journey to Jerusalem will likely lead to his death.
But he is undeterred. He will not be side-tracked. Nothing is more important than this. There are various responses to his urgency:
Samaritans not welcoming him? So what? Nothing new or unexpected there. From their perspective, this is a reasonable response to a Jewish man in their territory heading to Jerusalem.
James and John wanting to call down fire on the Samaritans for their rudeness? I understand their attempted defense of their Lord. That certainly is reasonable. But after all this time, they think that a violent, vengeful response is what Jesus is looking for? Not going to happen.
In another village as they travel along the way, someone offers to follow Jesus anywhere (not knowing, of course, that Jesus is heading to his death), Jesus is hardly encouraging. If you follow me, he says, you’ll have no worldly security; nowhere, even, to lay your head. Not a very enthusiastic response to someone who wants to follow!
A second person doesn’t offer, but is actually asked by Jesus to follow. And this person makes the very reasonable request to bury their father first. Jesus brushes this one off–let the dead bury their own dead.
Does this response by Jesus strike anyone else as completely unreasonable? Isn’t Jesus all about compassion and love for one another? He won’t even allow a poor grieving son or daughter to bury their father before following him? Apparently, his journey to Jerusalem, with all that is at stake there, is that urgent.
Then a third person offers to follow Jesus, just as soon as she says goodbye to her family. Did you hear that? She wants to follow, and is willing to leave for family, her town, and her life for Jesus’ sake. A quick good-bye seems entirely reasonable. Jesus tells her she isn’t fit for the kingdom because she’s looking backwards.
Oh, c’mon, Jesus! It’ll take a minute for this potential follower to write a quick note and leave it on the kitchen table. “Gone with Jesus. Back later.”
When we get past the rudeness and the strangeness of his responses, we can begin to see how important this journey to Jerusalem is for Jesus. More important than etiquette, manners, or people’s feelings. Nothing, absolutely nothing will get in his way. He will go to Jerusalem and he will accomplish that which he came to do. He will face the rulers and the powers of this world. He will bring the reign of God–compassion, forgiveness, and peace, right under their noses. In doing so he will expose the powers of the world as contrary to God’s mission. And he will be killed for it.
Everything hinges on this. The reign of God–of peace, of forgiveness, of standing with the poor and powerless–will come face-to-face with the best this world has to offer. Winner take all. The fate of all creation hangs in the balance. Either the power we know and crave for ourselves will win, or forgiveness and grace will win. All or nothing. No compromise or bargaining. Either God is god or something else is. Either God’s way of grace, mercy, and forgiveness rules, or something else does.
So these prospective followers of Jesus, with their reasonable conditions, are in the way. James and John, these disciples of Jesus, who have given up everything to follow him, and who are reasonable wanting to defend Jesus, are in the way. And we, who call ourselves reasonable followers of Christ, are also in the way.
Do you know why we find their requests reasonable? Because we do the same thing. We find reasonable ways to be disciples. Which can mean we bargain, we compromise, we try to follow on our terms. We place our convenience and comfort and security ahead of our discipleship. We follow Jesus when it suits us, and find reasonable ways to avoid it when it doesn’t. So we say reasonable things, like:
–It would be silly to give more money away. I need to provide for my children after I’m gone. God doesn’t want us to be foolish, right? That’s reasonable.
–I already volunteer. My life is so busy I just don’t have time to do any more. God wants our lives to be in balance, right? That’s reasonable.
–I’m raising children and that takes all my time and energy. God doesn’t want us to neglect our kids, right? That’s reasonable.
–I try really hard. I’m doing my best to follow Jesus as closely as I can. What else does God expect? That’s reasonable.
Don’t all those statements sound reasonable? Of course they do, because they are! And yet, either God’s way of absolute grace and forgiveness reigns, or our very reasonable compromises do.
And yet, Jesus is undeterred. Jesus will go to Jerusalem. Jesus will not be stopped from facing the power behind our reasonable discipleship. Jesus will go. And he will die. And he will be raised. And the reign of God happens. Forgiveness wins. Grace triumphs. Mercy is not put aside. Jesus is that determined. In spite of us. And, in fact, he is that determined for us.
You see? If Jesus goes to Jerusalem, then you are forgiven. If God’s way wins, you are assured of unconditional love. If God’s kingdom overcomes the powers of this world, you are shown mercy.
Jesus will not be swayed; he loves you. Forgiveness will not be deterred; Jesus gives it to you. Mercy will not be stopped; Jesus brings it to you. God’s mission is that urgent. You are that urgent. Jesus is not hindered by our very reasonable discipleship. God’s way wins. Jesus is going to Jerusalem. Amen.